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Hong Kong’s Lee Lai Shan s had competed in the women’s windsurfing four years earlier in Barcelona, when it was included on the Olympic programme for the very first time. She hadn’t got near the podium, finishing 11th, but in the following years she had improved dramatically, winning both the Asian and world titles.
Going into Atlanta 1996 no athlete from Hong Kong had ever won an Olympic medal, and now they had an athlete who looked more than capable of ending that barren sequence.
Lee’s development as a windsurfer began when she took up the sport at the age of 12. Following the death of her father, she had moved away from home to live with her uncle, who lived on an island and owned a sailing shop. As soon as young Lee tried windsurfing, she was hooked.
Her great strength was her consistency. On Atlanta’s Savannah course, she didn’t win any of the first seven races, but accumulated four second and one third place finishes. Victory in the eighth race assured her the gold medal, allowing her the rare privilege of being able to watch the final race from the side-lines, safe in the knowledge that her triumph was already secure. For Hong Kong it means that, 44 years after they first sent a delegation to the Games, they had an Olympic medallist and indeed a champion to cheer.